Tiger Woods has long said that the secret to good golf is always being pin high. When you're pin high, you don't have to worry about water hazards, bunkers, or steep slopes beyond the green. You may miss right or left, but if you don't short side yourself, you'll likely be putting most of the time.
Though devices such as the Bushnell PinSeeker 1500 (and the SkyCaddie) are illegal for competitive play, they're acceptable and legal for informal and handicap play. In fact, if you attend a professional tournament during a practice round, you'll see plenty of caddies using the PinSeeker to double-check yardages.
Unlike the SkyCaddie, which uses a satellite-based global positioning system (GPS), the Bushnell PinSeeker uses a laser to calculate distances. You look through the PinSeeker and aim the LCD crosshairs at an object - a tree, the flag, the face of a bunker - and the unit sends a pulse of light. The PinSeeker measures the amount of time the light takes to bounce off of the object and return. Some simple math that includes the speed of light (which is constant) yields a yardage.
The PinSeeker measures 1.7" x 5.1" x 3.7" - about the size of two sleeves of balls. It weighs only 11.9 ounces, so those that carry their bag won't notice the additional weight. The range finder is accurate to up to 1500 yards, though only with the use of a reflector. The PinSeeker can find a flag from up to 400 yards, and trees from up to about 1000 yards. In reality, you'll never need it for anything over 400 yards. Not while golfing, anyway.
How's It Work?
The PinSeeker uses a single 9-volt battery. Mine has lasted through 10 rounds and shows no signs of losing power. The PinSeeker has only two buttons - a Power button and a MODE button. The two buttons provide for a simple interface and easy operation.
The single-lens eyepiece features 7x magnification and an LCD that overlays the view and upon which numbers and graphics appear. The diopter can be adjusted to +/- 4 points, so even those with poor vision should be able to view their target clearly.
The PinSeeker measures in yards and meters (pushing MODE for five seconds toggles between the two) to within +/- 1 yard or meter. It also features three different modes: Scan, PinSeeker, and PinSeeker with Slope. Scan mode allows you to scan slowly along a tree line while the LCD updates its measured yardage. This mode is useful if you're standing on the tee looking for a good yardage to a tree line, a creek, or a series of fairway bunkers, but won't be terribly useful on courses with which you are familiar.
The real gem is the PinSeeker mode, or the PinSeeker with Slope mode. PinSeeker mode attempts to find the flag among a sea of highly reflective trees. It does so by acquiring multiple signals and then displaying the distance to the shortest. The theory makes sense, and in practice that theory held up. You've got to be careful to avoid overhanging limbs, though, as occasionally the laser will bounce light off of them and you'll get an unusual yardage.
I use my PinSeeker "with Slope" 99% of the time. If you have 140 yards to an elevated green, it's tough to approximate how long the hole is playing. The PinSeeker is pre-programmed with average club distances and trajectories, and measures the slope to +/- 1 degree. Point the PinSeeker at the flag, hold the Power button to acquire the distance, and let go of the Power button to check the slope. If you've got 140 yards to the pin and the flag is +3°, the PinSeeker uses its built-in distance and trajectory tables to tell you that the hole is playing 151 yards - an extra club. Quite handy!
I first tested the PinSeeker at a shooting range. Targets set at 10, 25, 35, 50, 75, 100, 150, and 200 yards were all accurately measured to within a yard or two by the PinSeeker. To check the slope measurements, I borrowed a friend's surveying equipment and found the slope measurements to be similarly accurate.
The PinSeeker is small enough to fit in a pocket of my golf bag. I tried strapping it to the outside of my bag, but it flopped around and got in the way. Unlike the SkyCaddie and due to its larger size, the PinSeeker can't be clipped to a strap and forgotten. If you're a cart-driving kinda guy, well, you've got plenty of room for the PinSeeker.
One somewhat inebriated pal had a hard time acquiring a signal, but I've never had a hard time holding the crosshairs on the target, even in windy conditions. Target acquisition takes about three to five seconds, and if you work the PinSeeker into your pre-shot routine while others are playing, you will not slow up your group at all. Unlike the SkyCaddie, the PinSeeker does require a direct line of sight to the target. If you're frequently behind trees or play a course with several blind shots, you're going to be doing a lot of walking to get yardages, and the PinSeeker may not be for you.
The slope calculation, as I mentioned, has a built-in table of average yardages and trajectories. Whether or not these averages coincide with your game I cannot say, but I found the adjusted yardages to be quite accurate for my game. One hole on my home course typically leaves me anywhere from 50 to 100 yards to a severely uphill green, and the slope adjustments have proven to be quite a help on this hole.
As I said in the SkyCaddie review, I'm a fan of the Dave Pelz wedge method. I can dial in shots within 120 yards quite accurately. The SkyCaddie provides yardages only to the front, middle, and backs of greens, leaving some guesswork about the yardage to the pin. The PinSeeker won't give you front/middle/back yardages, but it will give you the more important number: yardage to the hole. I've put more shots close to the flag from within 120 yards with the PinSeeker than I did with the SkyCaddie, and that's testament enough to me.
The PinSeeker is waterproof and rugged. I not only dropped it in a pond in my testing, but I dropped it on rocks and a cartpath, in a bunker or two, and plenty of times on the grass. It survived each time, though not without a small scuff mark or two.
Though it's a bit pricy at $449, the PinSeeker - unlike the SkyCaddie, can be used for more than golf. Range finders are used by hunters, photographers, and home builders. You may or may not care how far your neighbor's front door is from your house, but with the PinSeeker you can find out.
When you do use it for golf, it excels at quickly finding the flag and giving an accurate yardage. Given the choice between the SkyCaddie and the PinSeeker, I'll take the PinSeeker. While the SkyCaddie requires a subscription to enable some of its features (especially if you frequently travel to new courses), the PinSeeker "just works." I'm not often behind trees and my home course doesn't have any blind shots, so I almost always have a clear view of the flag. The PinSeeker more than makes up for its extra bulk over the SkyCaddie with the Slope feature. That it measures the distance to the flag and not simply to the edges of the greens is another bonus.
Like the SkyCaddie, the PinSeeker can easily take strokes off of your game. My home course has pretty accurate yardages on the sprinkler heads, but unless you're in the middle of the fairway and the pin is in the middle of the green, you're going to have some guesswork left. Simply put, the PinSeeker eliminates the guesswork.